When it comes to taking care of our health, we typically think about exercise and nutrition.
However, there is a third piece of the puzzle: sleep.
Ensuring adequate quantity and quality of sleep is vital to our overall health. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research, we need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night for our best health.
Still, adults in the United States are falling drastically short of their recommended sleep and exhibit poor sleep hygiene. Only about half of the U.S. population is getting the amount of sleep they actually need.
While there are many integral factors that play a role in promoting better sleep, tweaking our diets is one route to have better sleep.
This article explains four ways that you can optimize your diet to promote better sleep.
1. Pay attention to caffeine intake
Caffeine promotes alertness by blocking a brain chemical called adenosine that makes us feel sleepy. In addition to blocking adenosine, caffeine also increases adrenaline which is why it gives us feelings of alertness (1).
While caffeine definitely does not replace sleep, it can temporarily make us feel more awake.
However, everyone’s body is affected by caffeine differently which is why some people can tolerate an espresso after dinner, while others must halt caffeine intake after their morning cup of coffee.
To have your best sleep, it’s important to consider the timing of your caffeine intake. If you are having trouble with sleep, consider having your last caffeinated beverage earlier in the day.
In fact, a recent study found that consuming caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime had significant disruptive effects on sleep (2).
When considering the quantity of caffeine, 400mg of caffeine daily appears to be safe for most adults.
To get an idea of how much this actually is, one cup of brewed coffee contains about 100mg of caffeine, depending on the bean variety and how strongly the coffee is brewed.
So, if you’re consuming 4 cups of coffee each day and noticing disturbances in your sleep, it may be time to cut back in efforts to improve your sleep.
2. Ensure adequate vitamin B intake
To have your best night’s sleep, aim to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Also eat whole grains and proteins that are rich in B vitamins, like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy.
Research shows that B vitamins may play a role in the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles (3). They can also help reduce insomnia, which is a common cause of impaired sleep (4).
Specifically, vitamin B12 has received much of the spotlight when it comes to looking at correlations between B vitamins and sleep.
Vitamin B12 helps regulate the release of melatonin at night, which is a hormone that influences a healthy sleep and wake cycle (5).
3. Monitor added sugar intake
Diets higher in added sugars are correlated with more restless and disrupted sleep.
This likely has to do with the spikes in blood sugar and overall blood glucose irregularity due to excess added sugar in the diet.
Elevated blood sugar can be one factor to blame for insomnia.
In fact, studies show that high blood sugar levels can reduce melatonin levels. As we explained before, reduced melatonin can affect sleep quality (6).
If you have a sweet tooth, try to satisfy it naturally with fresh fruits.
You may also consider creating healthy shakes and smoothies that won’t wreak havoc on your blood sugar.
For example, try this chocolate banana peanut butter smoothie.
- 1 scoop chocolate whey protein powder
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- A splash of a milk of your choice
4. Avoid heavy meals at night
It has been said time and time again that we should not eat right before bed. There are several reasons why people may adopt this practice of not eating close to bedtime.
One of these reasons is to promote better sleep.
Having a big meal causes your digestive system to work harder and it takes longer for you to digest the food. If you have your biggest meal of the day too close to bedtime, sleep can be disrupted.
Spicy foods can also trigger indigestion and heartburn, and laying down can exacerbate these symptoms.
Therefore, especially if you suffer from reflux, avoid eating heavy or spicy meals at least 3 hours before bed to promote better sleep (7).
It’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different and some people may not be as affected by eating too much before bed. If big dinners don’t seem to affect your sleep, it may not be necessary to change your habits.
But if you’re looking to improve your sleep, taking a closer look at the timing of your meals may be important.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking to improve your sleep, there are several dietary tweaks that can have profound effects.
Consider your caffeine and sugar intake, the timing of your meals, and also aim to eat a balanced diet rich with adequate B vitamins to optimize your sleep.
Making sure you are sleeping well is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing.